Writing is hard sometimes.
Coming up with a new story for your creative writing class, or just buckling down to write an essay, can be a struggle. Rosanne Bane, a creativity coach at Loft Literary Center, University of St. Thomas, University of Minnesota, StoryStudio Literary Center as well as others, says that writer’s block, or “writer’s resistance” as she likes to call it, happens when the limbic system in your brain — the part that controls your freeze, fight, or flight response — blocks the cerebral cortex of your brain, which houses your creative thinking process. “It’s not so much fighting it, as it is learning how to recognize and work through it,” Bane said.
Here are some ways to help you get back into the writing mojo.
Meditation helps you clear the mind of all distractions, as well as encourages mindfulness. In a recent study at Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital, it was found that those who practiced meditation had increased thickness in cortical regions of the brain, as well as slows neurodegeneration in those areas. Nancy Martin, associate professor and chair of religious studies at Chapman with expertise in devotional Hinduism, comparative religious ethics, and gender and religion, says that “mindfulness practices offer a way to step back from being carried along by distractions, to ask what causes them to arise and to cease, and to bring our minds to a state of calm awareness. As we continue to observe without judgement, they gradually subside and we are able to reach a point of rest and clarity, bringing us back to the task at hand.”
“Awareness of relaxing in the moment brings that cortex back and allows you to write again,” Bane said. “Practicing mediation over time makes your brain less reactive and so you will have fewer of those limbic system takeovers.”
Apps such as Headspace are great, with ten minute guided meditation sessions a day. Chapman also has meditation classes on campus at Wilkinson Founders Chapel, Fish Interfaith Center on Mondays, noon to 1 p.m.
Just like meditation, getting out and moving helps the writing process. Exercise helps improve memory, thinking skills, as well as alleviate stress. “When you’re exercising, your brain creates BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), causing the brain to grow new neurons and existing neurons to grow new synapses, making more connections in the brain.” Bane said. “It also increases oxygen and blood flow throughout the whole body. Anything you can do to improve the oxygen flow to the brain is going to improve your brain function.”
There have been several case studies with mice showing how exercise affects their brain development. A recent study at Guangdong Medical University found that mice who exercised on a treadmill improved in spatial learning and memory, as well as other cognitive functions compared to mice who did not. So go for a walk, or go do a quick workout at the Julianne Argyros Fitness Center. If a mouse can do it, so can you!
Prompts are a great way to get the creativity flowing. Rebecca Goodman, a creative writing professor at Chapman as well as an avid writer, said that prompts and free writing push you into new ways of thinking, especially places you weren’t expecting to go. “Often the writing that comes out of that carries with it the energy of the experience,” Goodman said.
Prompts also help give your mind a bit of a break from your work. Bane calls these types of breaks which involve creative engagement, creative play.
“Creative pay is very important.” Bane said. “Play for the sake of playing, such as coloring, playing with Play-Doh, kinetic sand, writing prompts, dancing — something you do for the joy of just doing it. Even when you’re not working, your subconscious is still working on the material.” Ashley Musick, a junior creative writing major, said she loves this method.
“I love writing prompts. I have a book called 642 Things to Write About, and whenever I get stuck I flip to a prompt and start writing,”Musick said.“It’s fun, helps me free up my mind a little bit, and refreshes my mind before I get back into my work again.”
There are also a bunch of prompt generator websites online, such as thinkwritten.com.
Setting a strict time table can also help you stay on top of your writing game. “It’s really important to make small commitments.” Bane said. “You want to keep that commitment small, small enough that it’s like setting the bar so low that you can’t help but walk over it. It keeps your cortex engaged and in charge. I recommend my students write 15 minutes a day, and once you get started and get past the initial inertia, it makes it easier to write and want to keep going.”
Lisa Cupolo, a writer and lecturer at Chapman, also uses this technique.
“It’s like a seatbelt. It keeps you grounded. It’s hard for me to get stuff down so timing myself forces me to write as much as I can. You’re in the zone, not moving from your seat or letting yourself get distracted,” Cupolo said. “Afterwards you feel, ‘yes, I’ve worked today!’ even if sometimes it’s a line, or other times two pages. In the end, you’ve done the work and you feel accomplished.”
Finally, trust yourself and the creative process. When it gets hard, don’t stress! It’s a good thing. “Creative insight comes to us after we go through a certain amount of frustration,” Bane said. “The fact that you are wrestling with it and struggling with your work is actually a good sign, so relax into that. Trust yourself, trust the creative process, make those commitments to writing for short periods of time, and then backing away from it. It continues to work on it while you go off and do something else for a while.”
In the end though, it’s whatever helps you get the job done. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and write!
Rosanne Bane is a creativity coach, teaching artist of more than 20 years at the Loft Literary Center, University of St. Thomas, University of Minnesota, StoryStudio Literary Center, and more. She is the author of Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance and Dancing in the Dragon’s Den: Rekindling the Creative Fire in Your Shadow. Rosanne also publishes the BaneOfYourResistance blog, which was named one of the 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2016 by the Write Life.
You can find more information on Rosanne Bane and her work on her website www.RosanneBane.com.